“Zero malaria starts with me” is the rallying cry for World Malaria Day 2021 on 25 April. The slogan was designed to keep malaria initiatives on the political agenda, mobilise resources by making the message more personal, and impress on communities and individuals to take ownership of certain aspects of malaria prevention.
This is particularly striking to me from trips conducted into the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Here malaria is endemic, and severely affects both local communities surrounding mining projects, but also expatriate and national workers.
On one trip, at a meeting we held with management and field workers for an international mining company, astoundingly, almost two thirds of the expatriate miners’ present indicated they had contracted malaria at least once. There had also been one death – an expatriate worker who died back in his home country from a malaria infection contracted in the DRC.
In almost 20 years of working and consulting in tropical countries for International SOS, it’s clearly apparent there is a huge variation in the knowledge and attitudes about malaria risk and how to prevent malaria among workers. There are also many misconceptions about malaria prevention prevalent in workers and management, especially among expatriate workers. Understanding the risks and taking personal responsibility to mitigate these risks starts with ‘me’. This is in addition to company management implementing systemic controls with leading and lagging indicators. These systemic controls should target, and measure interventions aimed at the malaria mosquito, bite prevention, and case management, along with supporting processes that ensure programme quality.
International SOS utilises and promotes a framework to mitigate malaria risk based on the ‘Swiss Cheese’ model utilised in risk management and occupational safety. The model adopted and refined by International SOS is outlined below:
International SOS has designed, implemented and audited malaria control programmes in the Americas, Africa and Asia, and assisted in the development of client corporate policy and standards around malaria for more than 20 years. The most effective programmes are those that integrate controls across all the slices of the ‘Swiss Cheese’ model. By doing this, two of our larger integrated malaria control programmes have won international best practice workplace awards.
International SOS being a multinational company with a global footprint, must also manage malaria risk within their own workforce of paramedics, doctors, nurses, business administration staff and other employees. As an organisation we have built solutions for our clients that cater for each slice in the model above;
- from vector control,
- to malaria eLearning,
- to proper case management utilizing carefully designed protocols, proper training, and governance oversight,
- to emergency standby treatment kits,
- to Assistance Centres staffed by health professionals trained in our malaria response protocols.
Coming back to the DRC, one of our larger integrated malaria control programmes in the country has achieved a 74% reduction in malaria rates in the targeted population over 12 years despite a huge amount of migration in and out of the project area. A tribute to an integrated team effort between the client and us that bears out the message. “Zero malaria starts with me”.
In light of the challenges imposed by COVID-19, it is important for organisations to ensure that other potentially fatal diseases, such as malaria, are not neglected.